One inning trips up rookie Tillman
Righty, 21, unexpectedly loses control in third
TORONTO -- The Orioles may be watching Chris Tillman carefully, but they're not looking for the sudden and abrupt signs of him hitting the rookie wall.
Tillman, at 21 years old, presents a different set of hazards, a start-to-start and pitch-to-pitch progression that has more to do with the sloping line of the rookie learning curve.
Tillman made that point with his pitching Monday, when he alternately struggled to find his comfort zone and looked dominant when he found it. Tillman's struggles weighed heavier on this night, and he allowed three straight hits and walked three consecutive batters in a hectic third inning that fueled a 9-2 win for the Blue Jays.
"You're going to get that out of a young guy who's in his first year at the Major League level," said manager Dave Trembley. "But he gives you glimpses and he shows you, at times, what he's going to be all about. That's what excites you about him, but then he kind of runs into a little bit of a wall and has trouble finishing off hitters."
Tillman made it through the first two innings without incident, but he admitted later that he was tentative and struggling to find his command. That came back to bite him in the third, when he got a quick out and allowed three straight hits. The third in that sequence -- a single by Adam Lind -- chased home two runs to give Toronto the lead.
But the Blue Jays didn't rest there. Tillman (2-4) got the second out of the inning on a ground ball, and then he walked Edwin Encarnacion and Lyle Overbay to load the bases. Tillman engaged Travis Snider in a long at-bat, but he walked him to push another run home, and Toronto (67-83) never let Baltimore (60-90) back in the ballgame.
"That was one of those things where it just all of a sudden hits you and then it's gone," said Tillman of his sudden bout of wildness. "It's like, 'How did that just happen? What just happened?' I got in the dugout after the inning, and obviously I was mad, but I was more shocked than mad. I don't know what happened there."
"He shows one or two good breaking pitches and one or two good changeups. And then he'll miss with a fastball," Trembley added. "I think that's what [impels] him against veteran teams to get his pitch count up. It was very similar to what these guys did to [Brian] Matusz after [he] had pitched in Detroit. Matusz comes here, [and] they worked him and didn't chase pitches that were off the plate. They did the same thing to Tillman tonight early in the game."
Trembley credited catcher Matt Wieters with helping Tillman to calm down and channel his stuff in the middle innings, and the rookie was able to blank the Blue Jays in the fourth and fifth. Lyle Overbay chased him with a solo homer in the sixth, and John McDonald added to the deficit with a solo shot off Cla Meredith later in the inning.
Meanwhile, the Orioles couldn't get much going against Jays starter David Purcey. Center fielder Felix Pie got a key hit to drive in a run in the second inning, but Purcey (1-2) was dominant from there. The southpaw retired 10 straight hitters during one stretch, and Toronto's bullpen defused a bases-loaded jam in the eighth.
"I thought I was going to get a hit," said Melvin Mora of the tight spot in the eighth. "I've been in that situation so many times with the bases loaded, but [Shawn Camp] made a pretty good pitch."
Mora grounded out to end that threat, and the Blue Jays immediately set about putting the game out of reach. Rookie reliever Bob McCrory was able to get two quick outs, but then he walked two batters and gave up two hits. The Blue Jays went on to score four runs in the eighth, and all four were charged to McCrory.
Baltimore had fallen into a similar jam in the seventh, only to escape. Southpaw Sean Henn came into the game with no outs and the bases loaded, and he escaped on a fly ball and a pair of strikeouts.
The Orioles have pledged to give Tillman at least one more start, and he said he came out of Monday's outing feeling strong. Tillman said his arm is fine, and he didn't feel he pitched all that badly.
"I couldn't really find my rhythm early on," he said. "I came out of the bullpen real good, and I guess I was a little overconfident going into the first two innings. I was real slow, real timid. In the third inning, I got those ground balls when I needed them, but they hit them where they weren't and they came up with some runs."
Whatever the case, Baltimore's brain trust feels like it's in a win-win situation with Tillman. The youngster raced through the Minor Leagues and has proven he can compete against the best hitters in the world. Now the onus is on the Orioles to round out his rough edges and on Tillman to prove he can take the next step.
"Let's be honest here: Tillman is 21 years old. He's done more than we expected him to," said Trembley. "I look at this as a game where Chris Tillman will learn that what you need to do is what he did in the fourth and fifth innings. You need to attack the strike zone, use all your pitches, pitch down and command the fastball."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.